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Farr, Sutherland

Historical Description

FARR, a parish, in the county of Sutherland, 19 miles (W. by S.) from Thurso; containing, with the former quoad sacra district of Strathy, 2217 inhabitants. The name of Farr, or Far, as it is sometimes written, may be derived from the Gaelic word Faire, implying a "watch" or "sentinel". It doubtless arose in reference to the Dun, or circular tower, standing on the coast, about half a mile north of the parish church, and which formed the first and most important of a regular chain of such ancient buildings extending for more than twenty-four miles into the interior. These towers are thought to have been erected by a race called in Gaelic Criiiniiich, from a word signifying "circular", or one denoting "a gathering together". There are also numerous tumuli in the neighbourhood, which are generally considered to have been the burying-places of invaders, especially Danes, who fell in the fierce and bloody conflicts so frequent with the native inhabitants; the sepulchres of the chieftains are usually at a little distance from the ordinary burying-places, and marked out by some signal and more permanent memorial. In the churchyard of Farr, for example, is a large erect stone, curiously sculptured with pagan devices, and traditionally reported to note the burial-place of some Dane of distinction, by many supposed to be a prince; it is two feet in breadth, six feet above the ground, and as many feet beneath. Several of the tumuli are said to be the depositories of those who fell in the battle between Reginald, King of the Isles, and Harold, Earl of Orkney and Caithness. In times less remote, the ancient clan of the Mackays made a very considerable figure here, their principal residence during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries being Strathnaver, of which Farr formed a part. Subsequently, upon the marriage alliance between the Earls of Sutherland and the Gordons, some of the latter came to reside in the district; and about a hundred years ago there were few persons in the parish but Mackays and Gordons, which names, indeed, are still the most numerous among the population. The ancient castle, probably built by the Norwegians, is supposed to have been the seat of the Mackays of Farr before they were created barons under the title of Lords Reay.

The PARISH lies in the northern extremity of Scotland, and is about forty miles long, varying in breadth from eight to twenty miles, and containing 300,000 acres. It is bounded on the north by the Northern Ocean. The general aspect of the parish is mountainous, the surface having in most parts a very thin shallow soil, and in others exhibiting only bare rock. The principal mountain is Bein Chlibrig, of conical shape, and the loftiest in Sutherland, of which the southern side is partially covered with heath and grass, but the northern is bare and roclThere are many springs of excellent water in the parish, and several fresh-water lakes of considerable extent and beauty, the largest of them being Loch Naver, Loch Coir-na-fearn, and Loch Strathy. Loch Naver, which is seven miles long, about a mile and a half broad, and in some parts thirty fathoms deep, is by far the most important lake: its shore at different parts exhibits all the varieties of rock, pebbles, and sand. The rivers are the Naver, the Borgie, and the Strathy, the first of which, the largest in the county, issuing from the loch of the same name, is joined near Achness by a stream rising in Loch Coir-na-fearn, and after receiving many other waters in its meandering, and sometimes rapid and sometimes apparently quiescent, course through the strath, falls into the sea about eighteen miles from its source. The river Strathy flows from Loch Strathy, and, when augmented by the swellings of its tributaries from the several hills and marshes, becomes a powerful stream. The Borgie which issues from Loch Loyal, in the parish of Tongue, forms a boundary of this parish, and joins the ocean within a mile of the Naver, at Torrisdale. There are salmon-fishings in it, which for a long time past have belonged to the Sutherland family. Indeed, all the larger lakes and rivers contain a plentiful supply of salmon; and in the smaller, trout are taken in considerable quantities.

The SOIL differs greatly: a very large portion of it in the interior, especially in the vicinity of the lochs, except Loch Naver, is a deep moss; while that on the borders of the rivers Strathy and Naver consists of sand, gravel, and moss. Along the coast it is found to be light and sandy, and in the neighbourhood of the bays, in addition to this, to contain some alluvial deposits. About 800 acres in various parts are occupied by wood, and about 700 on the coast are cultivated by small tenants: with these deductions the whole land is laid out in extensive sheep-walks. The herbage is of many kinds, varying principally according to the elevation of the land: the common red heather, deer-hair, and the long tough grass called flying-bent are commonly found on the mountains, hills, and moors; and in the softer marshes is a profusion of the species known by the name of cotton-grass. The trees growing here are of much variety, and, with some trifling exceptions, are indigenous; the alder attains a considerable size on the grounds watered by the Naver, where, also, the birch is most flourishing and abundant. About 22,000 sheep of the Cheviot breed are annually grazed in the parish. The land occupied by the small tenants is generally of uneven surface, and capable of great improvement by draining, inclosing, and ploughing; the crops consist of oats, bear, and potatoes. The annual value of real property in the parish is £808. The rocks and stone in the district, which are abundant in every direction, are chiefly coarse granite, gneiss, and sandstone. On the coast near Kirktomie is a considerable quantity of red sandstone, mixed with conglomerate, and in the vicinity of Strathy is some superior limestone, from which a material for burning into lime is obtained; also a large quarry of white sandstone, easily convertible to purposes of utility from the readiness with which it is dressed by the chisel. At Strathy the strata of freestone and limestone are horizontal; in the rest of the parish the strata of rock are nearly vertical, or form an angle of from five to thirty degrees with the perpendicular. Cattle-trysts are held at Aultnaharrow on the 14th September, and at Bettyhill on the first Wednesday in November. Salmon are taken in considerable quantities at three stations on the coast, and about eighteen boats are engaged in the herring-fishery during the season, from May till September; the salmon are sold to a company who have a curing establishment here. Turbot, cod, ling, haddock, and other fish are also obtained. There is a post-office in the parish connected with the market-town of Thurso, thirty-two miles distant; and the inhabitants have some facility of communication by means of a mail-diligence carrying four passengers, which runs to and fro, three times a week, between Thurso and the neighbouring parish of Tongue, between which places there is also a weekly carrier. The road from Bonar-Bridge to Tongue passes through the heights, and about sixteen miles of the line from Tongue to Thurso near the coast. On the river Naver is a chain-boat, and over the different parish-roads are two bridges of three arches each, and twelve bridges of one arch.

For ECCLESIASTICAL purposes the parish is within the bounds of the presbytery of Tongue, synod of Sutherland and Caithness; patron, the Duke of Sutherland. The stipend of the minister is £167, with a good manse, built in 1818, and a glebe valued at £8 per annum. Farr church, situated near the coast, is convenient for the population, the greater portion of whom reside in its vicinity, the remoter district being peopled only by an inconsiderable number of shepherds in the employ of the great sheep-farmers. It was erected in 1774, and is a plain building with substantial walls, seating about 750 persons. There is a government church at Strathy, ten miles eastward from the parish church, built in 1826, and accommodating about 350 persons. The members of the Free Church have also a place of worship. There is a parochial school, in which instruction may be obtained in the classics, mathematics, and all the ordinary branches of education; the master has the maximum salary, with about £5 fees, a house, and £3 in lieu of a garden. Three other schools are supported respectively at Strathy, Arniidale, and Clarkhill, of which that at Clarkhill is under a female teacher. The master of the school at Strathy, a parliamentary one, has a salary of £25, with about £4 in lieu of fees. The Committee of the General Assembly give a salary of similar amount to the teacher of Armidale, the fees being £3; and the mistress of Clarkhill receives £5 from the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, and the fees. In the two former of these three schools, the classics and mathematics are taught, in addition to the usual branches of education. The masters have excellent accommodations, including each a house and garden, and a croft of land from the Duke of Sutherland. His grace derives his title of Baron Strathnaver from the vale in this parish: the dignity was conferred upon the duke's ancestor as early, it is supposed, as the beginning of the thirteenth century.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland, 1851 by Samuel Lewis